Indiana's Republican Governor Mitch Daniels tries to blame the 2001 recession for the deficits that occurred under president Bush. David Leonhardt sets the record straight:
...Here is [Wolf Blitzer] interviewing Mitch Daniels...:
BLITZER: A columnist in The New York Times wrote recently ... saying if you decide to run for president, you need to explain .. “why as budget director, [you] did not try to prevent the Bush administration from turning a big surplus into a huge deficit, not just through the war, but through tax cuts and other policies, too... If he runs for president, that question deserves to be a big part of the vetting.” Do you want to respond to that?
DANIELS: You know, the nation went into a deficit then because the bubble burst. We had a recession. It wouldn’t have mattered what policies you tried to implement. ...
That is not quite right. When President Bill Clinton left office in 2001, the Congressional Budget Office was forecasting an average annual budget surplus of $850 billion for 2009 through 2012...
The bursting stock-market bubble and recession that Mr. Daniels mentions erased a little less than $300 billion of the surplus. The Bush administration’s policies — including the tax cuts, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Medicare prescription-drug program — erased another $673 billion. ...[I]t is not true that “it wouldn’t have mattered what policies you tried to implement.” The Bush administration’s policies did more than twice as much damage to the budget as the recession did.
Here's a bit more of the interview. If spending cuts are so important to Republicans, Blitzer asks, why did the government get larger under Bush?:
BLITZER: ...the national debt doubled during the eight years of the Bush administration...
DANIELS: Well, nobody is happy about that. ...
BLITZER: But the government turned out to be during those eight years a lot bigger than it was when he started?
DANIELS: It did and you know, we don't have to agree with that to agree --
BLITZER: Who was to blame for that? Because Republicans have been saying forever, the government has to be smaller. The national debt - there's going to be balanced budgets, but during the eight years of the Republican administration and you work for the president. It got bigger the government and the debt doubled.
DANIELS: I think there is plenty of blame to go around and we can spend the next couple of years trying to apportion it and assign it between Republicans and Democrats and the economy, which two bubbles popped and led to a plunge in revenues, but --
BLITZER: For six of those eight years, the Republicans had the majority of the House and Senate as well.
DANIELS: Yes, some of my biggest fights were the members of our own party. ... So I will just say that the choices that were made in those years were not all accurate, not all good ones...
It doesn't take a couple of years to "apportion" blame, we already know the answer. The increase in the deficit was caused mainly by the conscious choices of Republicans -- choices made, in part, under the false mantra that the Bush tax cuts would pay for themselves. They didn't. Not even close. The tax cuts caused the deficit to grow substantially, and there is little evidence that the cuts stimulated new economic activity.
This is probably a good time to repeat this:
Just two policies dating from the Bush Administration — tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — accounted for over $500 billion of the deficit in 2009 and will account for almost $7 trillion in deficits in 2009 through 2019, including the associated debt-service costs. (The prescription drug benefit enacted in 2003 accounts for further substantial increases in deficits and debt, which we are unable to quantify due to data limitations.) These impacts easily dwarf the stimulus and financial rescues. Furthermore, unlike those temporary costs, these inherited policies (especially the tax cuts and the drug benefit) do not fade away as the economy recovers (see Figure 1).
Without the economic downturn and the fiscal policies of the previous Administration, the budget would be roughly in balance over the next decade. That would have put the nation on a much sounder footing...
Again, despite the protests that it was the recession that caused the deficits under Bush, and that policy had nothing to do with it, even today most of the problem can be traced to the policies of the Bush administration -- policies that were enabled in large part through the fraud about tax cuts paying for themselves.
That people are still willing to believe that Republicans are tougher on the deficit than Democrats and that our current problems are largely due to the choices of this administration may be a tribute to the GOP's ability to control and influence the media (or perhaps the converse, the lack of ability of Democrats to do the same), but it has little connection with the truth.